Man with sleep apnea sprawled out in bed

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disorder in which breathing is frequently interrupted while you’re asleep, forcing you to briefly wake up in order to begin breathing again. It’s important to note that sleep apnea is not uncommon. In fact, nearly 1 billion people suffer from sleep apnea worldwide; and in 2014, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine released a statement that called the rising prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea a threat to public safety.

If you keep waking up with a sore throat and/or headache, frequently feel exhausted throughout the day, or have heard your partner complain about loud snoring throughout the night, you might have sleep apnea.

Leaving sleep apnea untreated can lead to or exacerbate a variety of other associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and could even increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

Common Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

While there are quite a few ways to treat sleep apnea, including oral appliance therapy, many people aren’t aware of how to reduce their risk of sleep apnea until it’s too late. By staying educated, you’re able to get ahead of the curve and combat sleep apnea early on.

1. Obesity

Obesity is one of the primary risk factors for sleep apnea due to the additional fat deposits that develop in the soft tissues near the back of your mouth and throat. Once your body falls asleep, these soft tissues relax, causing them to partially block your airway. Snoring happens because air is being squeezed through the small opening that isn’t covered by these tissues, resulting in the noise many of us know all too well. 

Losing weight is a great start to reducing the risk or severity of sleep apnea. As explained by The Sleep Foundation, weight loss of just 10-15% can potentially reduce the severity of sleep apnea symptoms by 50%. It’s important to note, though, that weight loss is not always a cure. Oftentimes, those who suffer from sleep apnea have multiple contributing factors, which is why it’s essential to consult a doctor and/or a sleep physician.

2. A Narrow Airway

Even if you’re at a healthy body weight, your natural anatomy could still put you at risk for sleep apnea. For example, children sometimes develop sleep apnea because of large tonsils or glands in their upper airway. In adults, it may be because you have a narrow throat, a large tongue, obstructions in your nasal cavity or nose, and/or the anatomy of your gums.

3. Excessive Alcohol Use

Yes, alcohol in small amounts can lull an individual into a relaxing night’s sleep, but alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can cause a multitude of sleep problems, including worsening the symptoms of sleep apnea. 

Any type of sedative relaxes the muscles in your throat, potentially causing a blockage of the airway.  Because of this, consuming alcohol either in excess or too close to bedtime can put you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea, especially if you’re already a snorer. 

4. Nasal Congestion 

There are a few different reasons for nasal congestion. People get sick, suffer from allergies, or because of some other health issue, have trouble breathing through their nose. Regardless, nasal congestion increases the risk of developing sleep apnea – but is not the main culprit. 

Nasal congestion is a contributing factor, meaning that if you are overweight, are older, or drink excessively, the combination of that plus having an obstructed nasal cavity could push you over the edge. Researchers believe that if an individual is suffering from sleep apnea and has a nasal obstruction, surgery is “a good therapeutic option,” according to the 2014 study, Nasal Involvement in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome.

5. Being Older and Male

Age and being male are both contributing factors for sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than their female counterparts. This goes back to particular differences in anatomy. Men tend to have larger but more collapsible airways than women, whose airways tend to be more stable and less mobile. This is not always the case, though; and there are a handful of other risk factors for women, such as obesity and alcohol use. If you’re a woman and suspect you’re suffering from sleep apnea, it is still important to speak to a physician. 

Age is also important to keep in mind. As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass and tone, including in the airway. This depreciation results in the airway becoming increasingly collapsible and more susceptible to blockage when we’re asleep. There is little that can be done to completely stop muscle loss, making it essential to mitigate other risk factors that are in your control, such as weight gain, drinking, and diet.

6. Other Medical Conditions 

Diabetes, high blood pressure, hormonal disorders, congestive heart failure, and Parkinson’s disease are some conditions that increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. If you suffer from any of these conditions and you or your partner begin to notice symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s very important to alert your doctor so they can refer you for diagnosis and treatment. A sleep physician is able to provide treatment options for your sleep apnea. This is exactly what Dr. Dibra and Dr. Smith do here at Sleep Dallas

No matter what the cause of your sleep apnea is, the first step is to have your condition diagnosed by a professional. Once it has been confirmed, you can receive appropriate treatment, such as oral appliance therapy, a non-invasive form of sleep apnea treatment. Instead of battling a CPAP each night, an oral appliance is a small device that is custom made to fit your mouth. Learn more about oral appliances by clicking here; and if you think an oral appliance is what you’ve been looking for, click here to schedule your consultation.

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